Hunting in Pennsylvania is a time-honored custom steeped in local culture, heritage and sporting tradition. It connects thousands of people with the woods that gave the commonwealth its name. Unfortunately, there's a pastime that mocks the sporting instincts of the many legitimate hunters -- pigeon shoots.
Pigeon shoots are events where cruelty flourishes in the absence of the sporting chance. From 1934 through 1998, a notorious pigeon shoot was held every Labor Day in Hegins, Schuylkill County, providing a notorious window into a cruel world: The Hegins shoot used live pigeons, usually trapped, as target practice. The pigeons didn't stand much of a hope. They might as well have been sitting ducks.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, each pigeon was put in a small wooden box called a trap. A shooter would shout "pull," an official would yank a string and the birds would be propelled about 3 feet into the air.
Then the alleged sportsmen with their guns would do the rest. Only about 20 percent of the birds would be killed cleanly, the Humane Society says, but 70 percent were left wounded. No veterinary help was in store for them. They were picked up by boys who wrung their necks or ripped the heads off.
These ghoulish proceedings with their informal apprenticeships in animal cruelty for the youngsters went on brazenly despite protests. Then a humane officer tried to take action, only to have a court stymie that because it said that Pennsylvania's animal cruelty laws did not cover pigeons. Fortunately, in 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cruelty to pigeons was covered by existing laws.
That was the death knell for the Hegins shoot, but not for others conducted in private rod and gun clubs. Indeed, the Humane Society believes that this is the only state known to host multiple pigeon shoots. That is a shameful distinction.
A remedy is at hand -- Senate Bill 510, recently introduced, would specifically ban pigeon shoots. The Humane Society believes -- and we agree -- that this will provide a final nudge to local law enforcement authorities to do something to stop these horrible events. Lawmakers should support this effort without fear, because this bill doesn't harm real hunters.